I have to admit before I watch this movie I only knew two things about it, one, it starred Peter Lorre, and two, at some point there would be the letter M on his back. I’m ashamed to say the only reason I knew the second part was because of a bumper clip on MTV.
M is about the hunt for a child serial killer in Berlin and although we find out early on who the killer is it makes the movie no less intriguing. Part of the reason is that this movie covers the killings not just from the perspective of victim and perpetrator but also the victim’s family, the police, the media, the criminal underworld, and the townspeople who are held in the grips of fear and anxiety until this serial killer is captured.
The killer is luring away young girls as they walk home from school, playing, basically anytime they are alone. The police have very little clues and everyone is on edge. People start to panic accusing anyone who seems the least bit out of the ordinary and become a near lynch mob when they see anyone brought in on suspicion. The police’s dragnet, which includes nightly raids of bars and questioning known criminals begins to affect Berlin’s underground community’s ability to conduct business as usual. Tired of how this crime is effecting business, the city’s crime bosses get together and create a dragnet of their own, beggars and street criminals are employed to patrol the streets looking for the killer, without the police knowing.
Another part of what makes this movie great is Peter Lorre. I’ve always been a fan of Lorre but mostly through his more gentler roles such as Mr. Moto. But in the role of Hans Beckert, he showcases his talent like no other film I’ve seen him in. Beckert is a complicated character, one moment quiet, even displaying a child-like timidness, the next he’s a raving lunatic, then again he’s cold and calculating. Lorre slips between all these different personalities with an ease that brings another level of creepiness to an already creepy character.
And the last part is Fritz Lang’s incredible direction. The fact that this movie is very stark, and I’m not just talking the fact it’s in black and white because it was 1931 after all. But this is just everyday people dealing with a situation. There is no sound track and there isn’t a lot of background noise or unnecessary dialogue to fill in the scenes. This may have to do with this being Fritz Lang’s first sound movie but I think it was more clever than that. Also the writing, Lang wrote the screenplay along with his wife Thea von Harbou, brings in so many angles that it turns what could’ve just been a simple police procedural or mystery into a complicated masterpiece.